The Growth of the Haredi Communities in the Diaspora

The Growth of the Haredi Communities in the Diaspora

Orthodoxy in the United States comprises a few different streams. The major ones are the Hasidic, the Yeshivish, and the Modern Orthodox. The first two constitute (following Israeli usage) the Haredi community. The Haredim make up about two thirds of the Orthodox in the United States.

One central challenge to increased cooperation and integration between the Haredim and the broader Jewish community is the Haredi way of life which is committed to a strict interpretation of the Halacha and Jewish religious tradition. In addition to strict requirements regarding food and kashruth, the Haredi way of life enjoins separation of the sexes in public events. Haredim are also less likely to be tolerant of, and award equal rights to, the LGBTQ community (that is, as a community that promotes gay rights. They are, however, likely to be accepting of individuals.) They are also more reserved regarding gender equality and the participation of women in religious and leadership roles. All of these attitudes run counter to the liberal ethos which characterizes the mainstream Jewish organizations. Issues such as mixed gender seating and women singing can serve as obstacles between the institutions and organizations of the larger Jewish community and that of the Haredim.

The difference between Hasidic and Yeshivish Orthodox on the one side, and Modern Orthodox Jews on the other, goes beyond the level or the particulars of observance of Jewish religious law. It also seems to refer to the very terms of collective Jewish membership. This can be approached from the pattern of Orthodox engagement with the larger Jewish community. Whereas the Modern Orthodox are extensively engaged with the general Jewish community and its organizations, the Haredim are very much less so. Thus, according to a 2011 UJA-Federation of New York study, 37 percent of the Modern Orthodox contribute to the Federation (second only to Conservative Jews) but only 11 percent of the Haredim, who along with the “Jews of No Religion” are the least engaged1. Furthermore, as mentioned, the Haredi community maintains its own extensive set of religious, educational and social institutions. These, especially the social welfare and family service institutions, parallel those of the broader community and the federations. The Haredim have also developed their own political capabilities. They have independent lines of communication to leading political figures, especially on the local level, and they conduct effective lobbying on behalf of their own interests. The UJA-Federation of New York report states that the Haredim have not historically shown “a commitment to community-wide Jewish philanthropy and collective responsibility.”2 Greater integration into the general Jewish community could very well challenge this established pattern of organizational apartness and parallel institutions.

It is significant in this context that while the Modern Orthodox resemble the Haredim in many areas – religious observance, social and political views – they are at the opposite end of the spectrum when it comes to contributions to, and engagement with, the broader community. This requires some explanation. Umbrella Jewish organizations, such as federations, undertake many projects and programs. Frum Jews feel that some of these, such as outreach and services to intermarried couples may be Halachically or religiously objectionable. Therefore, many Frum Jews prefer not to support or be involved in such overarching frameworks. Thus, the Frum community tends to create its own education and social welfare frameworks.

The Modern Orthodox, in contrast, like the Religious Zionists in Israel, tend to identify with the larger, mainstream Jewish communal frameworks. In the interest of maintaining solidarity with the larger Jewish community, they tend to “look the other way” in regard to religiously questionable programs (if they do not have to be personally involved). The differential relationship to the general Jewish community seems to be influenced by two factors: strictness of Halachic or religious observance and how each community conceives of the Jewish or religious collectivity and its membership.